PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 20: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring the game tying goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the game at Consol Energy Center on January 20, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Penguins won 5-4 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
I want to lead with Evgeni Malkin.
I want to lead with how his game is at another level. How he continues to make a strong case of being the league's most dominant player. How his Spintal Tap approved clutchometer goes up to 11.
"Where can you go from there? Nowhere."
But we'll briefly set Malkin aside, late game-tying goal and all.
This one is for Kris Letang, who scored a peach of a goal in his second game back from a lengthy absence due to a concussion, one caused by Montreal Canadiens' winger Max Pacioretty. And it goes to Dustin Jeffrey, who scored his first two goals of the season to cap off a three-point night, a moment of triumph following his painstakingly slow recovery from off-season reconstructive knee surgery.
It all added up to a dogged comeback from 4-2 down in the third period, and a 5-4 (1-0) shootout victory over the Canadiens in front of 18,588 at the Consol Energy Center.
It was the Penguins' fifth victory in a row following a six-game losing streak. Now they're in the Eastern Conference's sixth spot, making Ray Shero's braggadocios playoff guarantee seem all the more prophetic.
In reality, of course, it's simply a tie. One that's just looked at through more optimistic glasses because of the added point and pseudo-victory. The Canadiens played well, the Penguins answered. Both teams were sloppy for spells, and both have things they can take away from the game.
Even if the game simply ended at 4-4 and the points were split, the Pens could still feel comfortable taking more good than bad from this one, particularly in seeing Jeffrey and Letang show a great return to form.
And, of course, seeing Malkin continue to do what he's done most of the season.
Notes and anecdotes after the jump.
- Malkin was dominant on faceoffs, winning 14 of 21 draws, a great rate for a player typically poor at faceoffs (he's only 45.8 percent for the season). The primary victim? Tomas Plekanec, who only won 12 of 32. His season rate is 50.2 percent.
- Seriously, how pretty was Letang's goal? Stops on a dime, changes direction, goes wide, and puts it in on the back hand (albeit after a slight misfire). Also, a major assist to Pascal Dupuis committing a fairly obvious hook on Plekanec that went unnoticed. Or should that assist go to the official?
- Matt Niskanen's ice time has withered in a serious way since Letang's return. On Thursday against the Rangers, Niskanen logged 15:13. Friday, he was on the ice for 14:00. In the 21 games that Letang missed, Niskanen averaged 20:28 per game. Letang skated for 24:17 against the Rangers and 28:14 against Les Habitants.
- Jeffrey's three-point night was a career high. He scored two points on three different occasions last season.
- Scott Gomez was the Canadiens' third shooter and final shooter, the game on his stick. Yes, Gomez. He of no goals in nearly a year (a bizarre feat a number of Habs fans are actually preparing to celebrate). Has anyone ever said, "We really need a goal. Where's Scott Gomez?" If it has been said, was it in jest? In a morbid way, as an opposing fan you almost expect Gomez to score. Why him? Oh, just Murphy's Law taking a number two on my heart. For his career Gomez was actually a solid 6 of 19 on shootout attempts going into the game. But, again, it's Scott Gomez and he hasn't scored in a year.
- Matt Cooke hasn't taken a penalty in the month of January. He's only taken one since December 13th, a span of 16 games. In that span, he's delivered 38 hits, over two-per game and above his season average. It shows he's beginning to increase his physicality while still managing to play a clean game. Cooke. For. Byng.